A Drone Pilot’s Van Life Journey
In this 2023 era of #vanlife and the rise of flexible work arrangements, there are individuals who are redefining the traditional notion of remote work by wholeheartedly embracing a nomadic lifestyle. One of our very own drone pilots, Kevin Perberg, has taken this trending concept of van life to soaring new heights. With a vision fueled by adventure and a passion for drone technology, Kevin has transformed his trusty van into a fully functional and mobile office that allows him to travel the country accepting drone jobs nationwide and capturing breathtaking landscapes along the way.
We caught up with Kevin during one of his drone mission-seeking adventures to learn more about his version of van life – where the open road is his workspace, and the sky is his canvas. From the challenges of customizing his van to meet his daily needs to the innovative solutions he’s devised to ensure a reliable power supply in the most remote locations, Kevin’s journey is a testament to the spirit of adaptability, entrepreneurship, and the boundless possibilities of the modern digital age. Read on to follow the adventures of a drone pilot who has turned van life into a remarkable and inspiring career.
Will Travel for Work
Kevin has always been a passionate adventurer whose journey into the world of van life and drone piloting is a fusion of his lifelong love for travel and his newfound fascination with flying and building drones. From a young age, travel has been an integral part of Kevin’s life. It was this inherent wanderlust that eventually led him on an exhilarating path. In 2018, Kevin discovered his passion for flying and constructing drones, a hobby that would soon evolve into a profession. Armed with his Part 107 certification, he took the leap into the world of drone piloting and travel in 2020, combining two of his greatest passions into a thrilling and unconventional career.
The Art of Van Customization
Kevin’s journey as a traveling drone pilot led him to transform his 2011 Nissan Armada into a functional and comfortable traveling office space. Kevin explains the van transformation, “I realized the benefits of life on the road. So, I stripped down the interior, leaving only the driver’s seat, and began the process of optimizing it for travel and work.”
The driving force behind Kevin’s customization was the desire to minimize the hassles and costs associated with hotels and dining while accepting drone missions across the country. He installed a twin-size mattress, a powerful Bluetti AC300 Inverter Battery system with multiple B300 batteries, and a spacious Bodega Cooler. “The Armada was initially purchased for my audio-video install business and has been perfect as my nation-traveling drone pilot rig.” With a little creativity and resourcefulness, Kevin has overcome the practical challenges of life on the road, ensuring he has reliable power, temperature control, food and water, sleeping quarters, and more.
Beyond figuring out common daily accommodations, Kevin also had to realize how to incorporate the necessary tools and equipment he would need for different types of drone missions. “Each kind of mission requires different equipment or software. I made improvements and iterations to the van design as I completed each type of job and decided the best layout for success. Learning from doing has been a key component to figuring all of this out.”
“A place for everything and everything in its place.”
While van life often champions minimalism, Kevin approaches it pragmatically. “If an item adds value and functionality, it finds a place in the mobile abode,” he states. Some choices he is able to keep on the minimal side, like the bed and fridge size, because they align with Kevin’s needs, ensuring he gets ample rest and sustenance between drone jobs.
On the other hand, when it comes to storing and protecting his equipment, Kevin doesn’t hold back. Recognizing that his “house” on wheels must withstand the constant vibrations of the road, he has adapted his space accordingly. The power system, storage drawers, and electronic equipment that aid in his drone piloting endeavors defy minimalism, yet they are crucial in his daily life.
“One of the best things I have discovered is that a single 3u rack mount drawer can securely store all five of my drones, including my Mav 3 Pro and Enterprise 3; my Thermal drone; and my Mavic Air 2, and Air 2S. With foam dividers in place, they stay protected during transit. Velcro, magnets, and LED light strips come in handy in maximizing every inch of space. Learning to maximize every square inch of my space has become part of the fun and challenge for me. I thrive on solving problems and finding inventive solutions to practical challenges, and designing this van has really satisfied that itch.”
Technology on the Go
For a drone pilot, technology is crucial. To ensure a reliable power supply and connectivity on the go, Kevin relies on the Bluetti AC300 and B300 battery system. This setup, powered by solar panels and portable generators, offers the flexibility and reliability required for his work.
In his first Nissan Armada build and now with his Ford Transit rig, Kevin has taken his power supply to the next level by incorporating dual AC300 systems that seamlessly link together, providing Split-phase 240v power. This upgrade enables him to operate a 240v Mini Split Heating Cooling system and utilize a whopping 24,000+ watt-hours of battery backup across 8 batteries. “What sets the Bluetti AC300 apart is its versatility; it can be charged using both AC power sources (such as shore power or a portable inverter generator) and DC sources (like the van’s battery/alternator and solar panels) simultaneously.”
Kevin explains, “Currently, for longer trips, I carry a generator as a backup. However, I plan to add more solar panels so I can eliminate the need for a generator. I also ordered a custom charging cable that allows you to charge your battery system using an EV charging port. So as more EV charging stations come online across the nation this will be a way to charge my battery systems and remove the need to haul a generator for most trips.
Adapting to the Elements
Kevin has also learned he must be prepared for weather conditions while on the road. For any drone pilot, the weather forecast plays a role in planning a flight, but add in cross-country travel and living in a van, preparing for local weather becomes a daily part of the routine. Kevin relies on the weather app DarkSky for his travels and the UAV Forecast App to check the K-index of a location, a crucial factor in ensuring safe and efficient drone flights.
“What is super cool about van life is that I can turn potential weather-related setbacks into opportunities. With my self-sufficient mobile command center, I can camp out for an extra day if needed without incurring significant additional costs. And it adds to the adventure.”
Opportunities of the Open Road
Taking his career on the open road has allowed Kevin to seize unexpected drone piloting opportunities. During a scheduled trip to California, a sudden surge in real estate work coincided with tax season. The flexibility of his well-equipped setup allowed him to extend his trip from two weeks to 30 days. “It opened me up to a substantial amount of work and inspired me to invest in the Mavic 3 Enterprise. I had it delivered to a UPS store in Modesto. The Mavic 3’s mapping capabilities was a game-changer! I was able to complete mapping missions faster, and the jobs I received paid for the Mav 3 within two weeks.”
This pivotal moment expanded Kevin’s perspective on the potential of the drone service industry. So, he invested in a larger build-out for his Ford Transit rig, enabling him to spend more time on the road following drone missions. Kevin even created space for his two sons, aged 12 and 15, by keeping the passenger seat and adding two beds. “My 12-year-old is homeschooled, so having him on the road with me is awesome. The road trips offer a unique style of real-life schooling and enriching field trip experiences. It’s so fulfilling to be able to have family adventures while pursuing my drone piloting career.”
Ready to set out on your #vanlife drone piloting adventure?
Kevin’s advice to aspiring drone pilots considering a van life adventure centers on firsthand experience. He emphasizes the need to test the waters, as watching videos or following social media posts can’t replicate the reality of life on the road. Kevin suggests gradual steps, especially for those with family commitments, urging open communication with loved ones to gauge the lifestyle’s impact. Flexibility and adaptability are key, as road life requires quick decisions. Kevin advises reflecting on personal skills, passions, and the job market to find the right intersection and adapt as they evolve over time. Ultimately, he hopes his journey can offer valuable insights to others seeking a fulfilling combination of drone piloting and van life.
#VanLife Tips from Kevin
Food & Water
- Stock up on groceries and water bottles and fill an oversized cooler. I use the Bodega 64QT.
- If you frequent Starbucks, ask for a free large water with ice so you can fill your water bottle.
- Loves Travel Stops are a great place to fuel up and shower. The have an Awesome app that saves .10 cents per gallon of gas. You can also purchase a shower through the app, check in once you arrive and receive a code to a clean shower area fully accommodated. Loves is also a great option to park at overnight.
- Cracker Barrel is another great overnight parking option, however you likely won’t have access to their bathrooms after hours.
- If you are traveling west, the Bureau of Land Management offers open spaces to camp out overnight for free. Check their website for more information.
- Home Depots or other large grocery parking lots are available for overnight parking, but make sure you avoid any of the spots that prohibit this.
- Rest areas can also be used for overnight parking.
Shelter Vehicle and Sleep
- Window covers to blackout your van and get a good night’s sleep. I use Van Essentials.
- Noise machine to drowned out the sounds of the highway.